Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. — Numbers 31:17

In the preceding verses, Moses gives no reason for killing the male children, like he does with the women. What practical reason could there have been for Moses' commanding that the male children be killed?

In addition, must one say, based on the text and Hebrew language conventions, that every single male child was killed, or is it possible that some of them (the infants, for example) were spared because of their age or another reason?

Thank you.

  • @Bach It's similar, but my question focuses only on why the males were killed, whereas this question focuses on why the female virgins were the only ones kept alive, and so I believe that it is sufficiently different.
    – CMK
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 23:04
  • CMK have you read the answers to that question? I think they address most of your concerns here.
    – bach
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 1:49
  • @Bach I did. They don't address my question directly, or with enough detail, in my opinion.
    – CMK
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 2:41
  • This. Long winded answers frustrate me. Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 0:09
  • Btw were the male children linked to the women who had sex?? Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 0:24

1 Answer 1


Males will grow up, learn their heritage, and seek revenge. Also, it would not be acceptable for the Midianite male to marry a Hebrew woman (when they did grow up). And then the following reasons also:


George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Of children. Women and children, ordinarily speaking, were not to be killed in war, Deuteronomy xx. 14. But the great lord of life and death was pleased to order it otherwise in the present case, in detestation of the wickedness of this people, who by the counsel of Balaam, had sent their women amongst the Israelites on purpose to draw them from God. (Challoner) --- Only those who were under twelve would be thus reserved; and as their tender minds might yet receive the impressions of virtue, by a proper education, they might, one day, be married by some of the Hebrews. The boys were all slain, either because they might be inclined to resent the injury done to their relations, or because they were all consecrated to Beelphegor; the first-born to be his priests, the rest to be victims, if necessary, to avert any evil. For "the heathens in cold blood," says Paine, "offered their children in sacrifice to Baalpeor." It was on this account, that the killing of all the first-born in Egypt, was felt so terribly, as the people could not lawfully approach their gods. (Forbes) --- Moses did not reserve the girls for the purpose of debauchery, as Paine ignorantly pretends; for that was contrary to his own laws, nor did he wantonly kill the innocent, which he also strictly forbade, and which he would have been still more afraid to do, if he had been an impostor. But he preserved the lives of those girls who might be presumed innocent, and who might live to do good, while he took the revenge of the Lord (ver. 3,) upon the rest. (Haydock)

  • Thanks. I read Haydock's comments on this verse. Is there any more information on the consecration of the bous to Baal?
    – CMK
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 8:37
  • @CMK - Here's a site that may help you get start a search: jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-cult-of-moloch
    – tblue
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 11:49
  • Thanks for the article. I found it informative.
    – CMK
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 20:33

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